Lit & Arts

Five Titles for the Book Nerd in Your Family

Last minute holiday shopping? Need some gift ideas for the nerds in your family, or maybe just for yourself? Check out these books, all which have been featured in various episodes of the award-winning radio show Radiolab, the podcast that reigns supreme in Nerd-dom.

Typhoid Mary: Captive to the Public’s Health by Judith Walzer LeavittSchaller_cvrcomp.indd
Featured in the “Patient Zero” episode, Typhoid Mary investigates the case of an Irish immigrant cook in New York who, after transmitting typhoid fever through her puddings and cakes, was quarantined on Manhattan’s North Brother Island for the rest of her life. Part biography, part microbiology, Leavitt’s fascinating book faces head-on the ethical dilemmas behind this particular epidemic, as well as those we currently face.

A Man Without Words by Susan Schaller
Schaller’s book, making an appearance in the “Words” episode, examines the curious case of Ildefonso, a Mexican Indian who lived in complete isolation for nearly twenty-five years. Having never been taught language, the deaf Ildefonso began a class for the hearing-impaired, where he met Schaller, then an instructor at the school. A Man Without Words is a unique exploration of the concept of language and what it truly means to understand the meaning of words.

Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain by Oliver Sacks
No nerd should go without having at least one Oliver Sacks publication on his shelf. Moving through stories of the most rare neurological conditions, Musicophilia explores music’s remarkable effect on the brain. One of those stories, featured in the final segment of Radiolab’s “Memory and Forgetting” episode, introduces readers to Clive Wearing, a celebrated musician and conductor who woke up one morning with what Sacks calls “the most severe case of amnesia ever documented”—except when a piece of sheet music and a conductor’s wand were placed in front of him. Musicophilia is a must-read for anyone who reveres the brain as a mysterious, ever-mesmerizing machine.

Sync: The Emerging Science of Spontaneous Order by Steven H. StrogatzMusicophilia
There’s Star Wars, there’s Star Trek, and then there’s Steven H. Strogatz’s Sync. Though we might at times find our personal lives to be in a state of chaos, Sync, from the “Emergence” episode, shows us how the largest of universes to the smallest of cells all work in steady cycles as regular and uninterrupted as the gears of a machine. From chaos emerges order, Strogatz proves, as he jumps from caves to clocks, from tidal rivers to moons and stars.

Generation: The Seventeenth-Century Scientists Who Unraveled the Secrets of Sex, Life, and Growth by Matthew Cobb
Mentioned in the early episode “Sperm,” Matthew Cobb’s Generation takes a deep dive into the history behind the investigation of the origin of life. Focusing on a group of young scientists in seventeenth-century Netherlands, Cobb gives background to the story of one detrimental mistake the crew made that would delay humanity’s search for scientific explanation of reproduction and genetics by two hundred years.

Take a look at all of Radiolab’s featured books here.